"We wouldn't countenance the injustice done Roberto de Vicenzo when he signed an incorrect scorecard and missed tieing Bob Goalby for first place in the '68 Masters," continues Root. "We would just have handed him an eraser."
Some purists have nicknamed the USDA chief the Root of All Evil, but he is serene in his righteousness. One fact that helps him live with himself is the enrollment of his young organization. Already, the USDA has more members than the PGA (6,646), the LPGA (180) or the USGA, whose enrollment consists of 3,819 golf courses, not people. There are USDA members almost everywhere—Saudi Arabia, Laos, Thailand, England, France. And if Root is regarded as a sporting malevolence by some, he bears no ill will. For instance, he sees a continuing function for the two citadels of traditional golfing wisdom, the USGA and the PGA. "They both serve their purpose," he says rather grandly. "Ours is to at long last give the weekend golfer a chance to play under rules meant for him."
Officially, a Duffer is "any person playing the game who desires to be called a Duffer" and who joins the association. On the membership rolls are Jackie Gleason, Perry Como and Bing Crosby. Duffers, too, are Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, though Root regards them as "honorary." The truth may be, however, that both Arnie and Jack long to escape pressure golf and begin to play again for fun.
Root, a real-estate agent, estimates he has spent $15,000 on his organization, and has recently decided to devote his full time to the Duffers. He hopes to transform it from a nonprofit group into a profitable one. From USDA headquarters in his home town of Newport, Ky., Root has embarked on a membership drive—$3 for a lifetime card—and several grandiose plans. Root foresees a string of Duffers Taverns and Duffers Dens, the former being restaurants with golf motifs, the latter being driving ranges, "where the average guy would get decent balls and clubs and instant TV replay of his swing."
Above all, Root wants to improve USDA tournaments, expanding the present dozen or so events and renewing his Duffers World Open. Last year's national championship at Newport had 95 entrants. This year there were only 45 contestants at Spring Valley, N.Y. Henceforth, the national will be in Newport, which Root hopes to convert someday into a kind of Cooperstown for shankers.
Root himself has a 15 handicap and willingly tells of the time he blew an eight-stroke lead on the final hole of a match. Another time, he tossed his driver and four-iron into a tree and had to climb up to get them. Now, however, Root exhibits his two real, if esoteric, talents in golf: he can stack four golf balls on top of each other, and he knows how to make the game fun for himself and for others.
Many duffers approach golf as if it were spelled backward, but thanks to Bailey Root, whether they golf or flog, Duffers can come up laughing.